This question is in regard to Galileo's early writings on motion titled De Motu (On Motion) or De Motu Antiquiora (Older Writings On Motion).

It is understood that Galileo never published this treatise in his lifetime, so I'm looking for evidence of when this work became available to the public through some posthumous publication. Most of what I've found online claim that it was published in 1687 (which is coincidentally the same year Newton published his Principia); however, I'm unable to find hard evidence of this fact, and it makes me wonder if this particular year is an error that's being echoed.

The best evidence that I have is I.E. Drabkin's 1960 translation of De Motu in which the first paragraph of Drabkin's introduction states:

The first volume of the National Edition of the works of Galileo, edited in 1890 by Antonio Favoro, contains on pages 251-419, under the title De Motu, the contents of certain manuscripts written in Latin in Galileo's own hand. Some of the material had been published for the first time in 1854 in Volume II of Eugenio Alberi's edition of Galileo's works, and the rest by Favaro himself in 1883.

(a footnote to the above paragraph is provided: Alcuni scritti inediti di Galileo Galilei...Bullettino di Bibliografia e di Storia delle Scienze Matematiche e Fisiche, 16 (1883), 226-97, 135-57.)

This suggests that the treatise was only partially published in 1854 and then supplemented further in 1883. Is there any proof to support the claim that there was a 1687 publication?

Edit #1 (in response to njuffa):

As requested, I first came across the 1687 claim on Wikipedia for De Motu Anitiquiora, but the date has since been changed to 1890. Here are a few others that echo the 1687 publication date:






https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0Igeosq6OE (see video comments)



I was able to find the earliest reference that used the 1687 date, which was surprisingly related to a 2011 Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on "Imagination" (appearing after an edit in "winter 2018") where the following citation is provided:

Galilei, Galileo, c.1590, De Motu Antiquiora (On Motion), unpublished manuscript, not published until 1687. Translated as part of On motion, and On mechanics; comprising De motu, I.E. Drabkin (trans/ed.), Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1960.


As I mentioned earlier in my post, I own this book and I have yet to find any reference to 1687. I can only guess that this was a citation error.

For reference, here is a translation of Favaro's introduction from the link provided by njuffa in the comments (page numbers in brackets):


Already Vincenzio Viviani, in certain commentaries concerning the Works of his Master, alluded to a manuscript by Galileo in several octavo quintenets entitled outside on the cover De motu antiquiora, which is acknowledged to be one of his first youthful studies, and for which nevertheless it is seen that from that time on he did not know how to accommodate his free intellect to the obligatory philosophizing of the common schools. And he immediately adds: However, what is most singular, which is scattered in this manuscript, all, as can be seen, he himself then suitably inserted, in his own places, in the works that he printed. Of some studies made by the Florentine philosopher in his youth, and transcribed by him in various quintens, above one of which is marked De motu antiquorum ect. he also touches Nelli, stating that the autograph was in his possession: and in fact it is registered among the manuscripts in his library; and Venturi also saw it, who admitted to searching in the Galilean papers of the private library of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, of which the main part was in fact made up of the manuscripts that had already belonged to Nelli, and found there various Latin treatises on motion, written by Galileo around 1590, which show that he since then disagreed with the doctrine of Aristotle.


According to the order given to the Galilean Manuscripts ever since they were collected in the Palatine Library in Florence, there is none which bears the title Do motu antiquiora, referred to by Viviani, nor the other, evidently incorrect, given by Nelli: and it is probable that the paper containing it was torn on the occasion of those regulations, as a result of which, as we believe, the aforementioned notebooks were no longer kept together; since one of them is now united, in Volume I of Part III, with the youthful studies of astronomical houses, or at least as such considered authorizing, the others are found in Volume I of Part V.

All these writings are autographed; and most of them were never published in the editions of Galileo's Works.

Coming now to examine the substance of these studies, to which we have wanted to keep at least in part the original title, it seems to us to be able to say that they contain the seed, and sometimes expressly signify, the admirable discoveries which the Author then placed them so much above the other contemporary philosophers, and show in full bloom the fruits attached later in the Dialogues of the New Sciences.

And as for the aspect under which these studies present themselves, it seems to us that they can be divided into three different categories. The first, made up of almost all the things related to motion contained in Volume I of Part III, offers us some considerations in the form of detached notes, almost notes of a reader or reflections of a thinker; and their very material aspect seems to us to comfort our judgment. This code contains up to char. 100 there Iuvenilia and, starting from the car. 102, a series of Latin words with an Italian equivalent, which however only occupies the beginnings of a few pages, while the aforementioned notes on motion are written on the parts that have remained blank. However, those Latin words are not from Galileo's hand, nor are some exercises in writing and epistolary style found in the last pages of the codex; for which reason it would almost seem possible to argue that this booklet, which perhaps will have already been used by his brother, was used by the young philosopher as a notebook to which he consigned his thoughts, as they came into his mind or they were suggested by the readings he was doing. The second and third categories are made up of what is read in Volume I of Part V: the first is represented by various chapters, in which some principles regarding the causes and laws of motion are embodied; this contains a good number of the more notable questions concerning the same subject, presented in the form of a dialogue. Is that,


minus a few exceptions, which we will discuss shortly, must also have been the natural genesis of such studies in the mind of Galileo. He himself, without any doubt, thought of giving a logical order to these writings of his; and perhaps he did not completely abandon the thought of them, except when, taking them up again after many and many years, he wanted to profit from a part of them, inserting it almost verbatim in the Dialogues of the New Sciences. The trace of a division into chapters is still evident, both in the headings of the single parts and in the body of these, which are sometimes found referred to from one to the other; but unfortunately such references are not complete, nor always rigorously coordinated, and indeed in some circumstances they lead us to doubt that everything Galileo dictated about this topic has come down to us. Now therefore, preparing ourselves to procure for the first time a complete edition of all that remains of these writings, we had first thought of a distribution of the matter in various books, according to which we would have searched, entering into the Author's intention as far as it was allowed to divine it, to give organic form to what apparently has only a fragmentary aspect; but we have abandoned the thought, because the division into books, suggesting a succession of topics covered, did not seem to us to be suitable for our case, in which we have rather only one topic in a series of elaborations that followed one another not too long ago.

And as regards Volume I of Part V, after mature considerations deduced from the essence of the writings, from the form in which they are laid out, from some reference signs that can be found there, and from the traces of an ancient and original numbering of the leaves of the code, we have been induced to consider as a first step what is read in the chars. 61 r.-124 v. (pag. 251-340): and the various chapters included in these we have determined to give according to the order in which the manuscript presents them. In truth, what we read in char. 77 r.-78 v. (pages 274-276) could have been omitted without appreciable damage to the continuity of the discussion, since there are only repeated references to the content of the long chapter that precedes it in char. 68v.-76r. (p. 262-273); if we hadn't set ourselves the indeclinable maxim that nothing of Galileo's manuscripts should be overlooked. In what we read in char. 133r.-134v. (p. 341-343), following the same criteria, it seemed to us that we could recognize a second or later lesson of the two initial chapters of the first part; in the chars. 43 r.-60 r. (p. 344-366), a third discussion of the doctrines set forth in car. 61 r.-62 v. (pages 251-253) and, with notable omissions and additions, depending on what one reads in char. 62 v.-66 v. and 85 r. (p. 253-260) and on char. 88 v.-92 r. (p. 289-294). In this regard, we deem it appropriate to warn that a char. 49 v.-60 r. (pages 352-366) the problems are partly treated and ordered differently than in the first lesson. However, the chars correspond. 43 r.-6O r. (p. 344-366) at 61 p.-66 v. and 85 r.


(p. 251-260) and at 88 ve-92 r. (pages 289-294), since and in both it is not yet a question of speed variations. In particular then the chapter on char. 88 v.-92 r. appears to be much improved in the new lesson that we have in char. 51v.-56r. (p. 355-361).

We have followed these writings (pages 367-408) with the dialogued lesson (Par. V, T. I, car. 4r.-35v.), in which we thought it appropriate to also insert a passage, equally dialogued ( page 375, line 10 - page 378, line 3), which we found in Volume I of Part III (char. 102 r.-104 v.).

In the dialogue, an Alexander and a Dominicus are interlocutors; with respect to which Nelli assumed that Galileo wanted to stage Iacopo Mazzoni and Luca Valerio, whom he had as companions in Pisa at the time to which the composition of these writings dates. Of Dominicus we know nothing; but certainly Alexander is none other than Galileo himself, since in a certain place Alexander speaks of the scale as an instrument invented by him (page 379), and again using terms used by Galileo himself in the relative writing.

At the end we have placed the unstitched notes concerning the subject of these writings, which we found in Volume I of Part III a char. 102 r., 104 v.-110 r. (p. 409-417) and in the I of the V a char. 3 v. (pages 418-419): and this also because it is not entirely without foundation to think that, at least some, refer either to further lessons in chronological order or to subsequent parts of the first ones which have already been mentioned.

In the edition of all these writings we have always wanted to stick with the greatest fidelity to the autograph. The additions and marginal annotations were inserted in their place in the text, also warning the reader of them, when they were referred to by some sign; placed in a note, when we found no trace of the recall. Furthermore, it did not seem appropriate to neglect even some passages which the author canceled by replacing them with others; such as those who, in certain details, sometimes of little, sometimes of greater importance, show us the successive work of elaboration, and of the thought and of the form, used by Galileo around this work of his. We reported the strokes erased, which were of some extent, in special notes: where instead, and so it is most. Sometimes, the correction concerns only a few words, we recorded the deleted sentence at the foot of the page, together with the manifest errors of the autograph which, as always, we thought we should amend in the text, however realizing them very exactly. And the errors are unfortunately too frequent, more than one would believe, for certain the passing of the pen of the great man to assimilations or attractions, if you prefer, of endings, or to viciously anacolutic constructions. Such errors we note in italics; where the manuscript strikethroughs are indicated in roman type, preceded and followed by


words of the text (and these in italics) in the midst of which they fall, even though they do not always have a syntactic relationship with them.

With the exception of a chapter which was drawn up several years later, and which therefore will be given by us to its proper place in the chronological order, all the studies on motion, contained in Volume I of Part V and in I of III, they belong to the time when Galileo taught in the Studio of Pisa; and even if other documents were lacking, the repeated references to the famous experiments he performed from the Tower of Pisa around the falling bodies and, even more, the scene of the dialogue, which is at the Bocca d'Arno, would suffice to make him presume. And probably some commentaries on Ptolemy's Almagest are also connected with Galileo's lectures in Pisa, which he mentions in these writings (p. 314) that he has already composed and is about to publish shortly; but of which in any case nothing has come down to us.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for linking that excerpt! I've gotten fairly decent at translating Italian, so I will provide a translation in my post for reference--there's no mention of a previous publication. To answer your question, various unofficial sources allude to the 1687 publication date; I'll offer a few examples in my edited post. After some digging, the earliest mention of this date comes from a 2011 article from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; see my edited post for more details. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew R.
    Aug 19 at 23:15
  • $\begingroup$ Further from Albèri's introduction: " Delle due analoghe scritture sopraccennate pubblichiamo, per le ragioni dette, soltanto la seconda, quella cioè in forma di dialogo, aggiungendovi bensì quattro capitoli siccome saggio dell'altra. " $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Aug 20 at 5:23

1 Answer 1


TL;DR The publication history of Galileo's De motu is essentially as outlined in the question: In 1854 Albèri published an initial portion, in 1883 Favaro published the balance of the work, and the first complete version was published by Favaro in 1890. There is no evidence of earlier publication. There is a possibility that copies of the relevant manuscript may have been available to a few individuals, but I have not been able to find any evidence of that in the literature. The asker notes that the erroneous 1687 publication date was included in Wikipedia at one point; it may have spread from there through citogenesis.

Francesco Crapanzano, "Per quel le confuse carte... The Galilean De motu in Raffaello Caverni’s Reading." Philosophia Scientiæ, Vol. 21, No. 1, Feb. 2017, pp. 17-33 (online)

traces the chain of custody of the manuscript after Galileo's death in 1642 from Vincenzo Viviani to the initial publications by Albèri and Favaro. No earlier publications are mentioned. The Austrian historian Karl von Gebler (1850-1878), who in 1877 famously published the files of Galileo's trial based on the Vatican manuscript1, states that the work circulated in a small number of copies, but did not appear in print until Alberi's edition of Galileo's works: Karl von Gebler, Galileo Galilei und die römische Kurie. Stuttgart: Cotta 1876, p. 12. No supporting references are provided.

Karl von Gebler (tr. Jane Sturge), Galileo Galilei and the Roman Curia. London: C. Kegan Paul 1879, p. 9:

During the time of his professorship at Pisa he made his grand researches into the laws of gravitation, now know under "Galileo's Laws," and wrote as the result of them his great treatise "De Motu Gravium." It then had but a limited circulation in copies, and did not appear in print until two hundred years after his death, in Albèris "Opere complete di Galileo Galilei."

The first known partial publication therefore dates to 1854, bearing the annotation NUNC PRIMUM EDITI (now the first edition):

Eugenio Albèri (ed.), Le Opere di Galileo Galilei, Vol. XI, Florence: Società Editrice Fiorentina 1854, pp. 1-80, "Sermones De Motu Gravium"

In his introduction Albèri states that the original material consisted of several lectures on the motion of bodies as Galileo may have delivered them at the university, as well as a dialogue between protagonists expounding the same information, a method favored by Galileo as exemplified by his famous works Massimi Sistemi and Nuove Scienze. Albèri therefore selected only the dialogue for publication, but added an essay covering the other material.

Questi scritti, i più antichi della mano di Galileo, si hanno nel Tomo I della Parte V dei Codici Palatini, e constano di due distinte parti. L'una com prende diversi Capitoli o Lezioni intorno il moto dei gravi, che verosimilmente Galileo veniva esponendo dalla cattedra a suoi uditori: l altra è un Dialogo che riassume e coordina quelle medesime dottrine, e il quale sin d'allora si proponeva forse di pubblicare in tal forma, che possiam dire da lui prediletta, siccome quella di cui fece uso nelle due grandi opere dei Massimi Sistemi e delle Nuove Scienze.
Delle due analoghe scritture sopraccennate pubblichiamo, per le ragioni dette, soltanto la seconda, quella cioè in forma di dialogo, aggiungendovi bensì quattro capitoli siccome saggio dell'altra.

In 1883 Antonio Favaro published an article in four parts on the unpublished writings of Galileo Galilei, which included the parts of De Motu omitted by Albèri:

A. Favaro, "Alcuni Scritti Inediti di Galileo Galilei", Bullettino di Bibliografia e di Storia delle Scienze Matematiche e Fisiche, Vol. 16, 1883; Jan. pp. 1-64; Feb. pp. 65-97; Mar. pp. 135-210. 2

The following year, Favaro combined all parts into a single volume:

Antonio Favaro, Alcuni Scritti Inediti di Galileo Galilei. Rome: Tipografia delle Scienze Matematiche e Fisiche 1884, 175 pp.

The complete work was published in:

Antonio Favaro (ed.), Le Opere di Galileo Galilei, Vol. 1. Florence: G. Barbèra 1890, pp. 243-419, "De Motu."

1 Karl von Gebler, Die Akten des Galilei'schen Prozesses. Stuttgart: Cotta 1877, 192 pp.

2 The bulletin was apparently printed in quarto format, that is, eight pages to a full sheet. Each sheet has the publication name and issue month printed in the lower left corner and the sheet number in the lower right corner. The January issue comprises sheets 1-8, the February issue comprises sheets 9-17, and the March issue comprises sheets 18-26 and part of sheet 27.

3 Both Galileo's father Vincenzo (1520-1591) and his younger brother Michelagnolo (1575-1631) were lutenists and composers. You can find recordings of their music on YouTube.

  • $\begingroup$ Do we know whether Galileo discussed his De Motu with Cavalieri? $\endgroup$ Aug 22 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ You may want to take into account the article FREDETTE, Raymond. « Galileo’s De Motu Antiquiora », Physis, 14, 1972, pp. 321-348. $\endgroup$ Aug 22 at 10:00
  • $\begingroup$ @MikhailKatz I don't have access to that publication. Does it mention publication of De Motu prior to 1854? If so, please consider posting your own answer, I would be happy to upvote. $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Aug 22 at 16:43

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